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Continuity of Operations Plan

The U.S. Government has for some time had Continuity of Operations Plans (or Continuity of Government) plans. During the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower provided by executive order for various measures which were supposed to ensure that the U.S. government would be able to continue in case of nuclear war. For many years these plans were kept tightly under wraps, fearing the public panic that would no doubt follow a relevation that their government was busily planning for post-apocalyptic survival. These plans were considered less important after the end of the Cold War but regained some prominence after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when fears arose that a terrorist attack could destroy significant parts of the government in a short space of time.

The secret nature of these plans have since created a whole host of conspiracy theories on the supposed "true agenda" of the Continity of Operations program. Much of the government's plans for post-nuclear war survival remain secret, and some of the measures that are known are controversial.

These measures included construction of underground facilities such as "Mount Weather," a hollowed-out putatively nuclear-proof mountain in western Virginia (mailing address: Berryville, Virginia). The public can now tour one such facility, intended to house the entire U.S. Congress, on the grounds of the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Other provisions of the plans included executive orders that designated certain government officials to assume Cabinet and other Executive Branch positions and form a shadow government if the primary office holders were killed in a nuclear exchange. Some have even alleged that the government has a secret and vast Presidential line of succession indicating which obscure Washington bureaucrat would become president in the wake of a massive nuclear holocaust.

These Cold War-era plans (both real and rumored) were criticized for, among other things,

  1. the danger that unelected persons could assume the Presidency and other appointed offices, using their sweeping emergency powers to create a dictatorship;
  2. the vast amounts of money spent on these programs;
  3. the contrast between the safe underground hideaways available to high government officials, and the relatively weak or nonexistent measures taken to protect members of the general public from nuclear attack;
  4. the idea that the ready availability of shelters would make any Dr. Strangelove types that might be at the Pentagon less averse to nuclear war;
  5. the rumored availability of the shelters to unpopular persons such as the Saudi royal family.

Today, the threat of a massive nuclear attack on the U.S. seems remote, and most of the reasons some once had for worry about the Continuity of Government plan have abated. Now, the bunkers are used for more mundane continuity-of-operations purposes, and the government workers who have to put in occasional shifts there complain that the facilities are old and musty.

The George W. Bush Administration put the Continity of Operations plan into effect for the first time directly following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. Their implementation involves a rotating staff of 75 to 150 senior officials and other government workers from every Cabinet department and other parts of the executive branch in two secure bunkers in the East Coast. Friends, family and co-workers can only reach them through a toll-free number and personal extensions.

The Bush Administration officially admitted the implementation of the plan on March 1, 2002.


A document named in italics supersedes the following document.

Clinton Administration

George H. W. Bush Administration Reagan Administration
Section 202

The head of each Federal department and agency shall ensure the continuity of essential functions in any national security emergency by providing for: succession to office and emergency delegation of authority in accordance with applicable law; safekeeping of essential resources, facilities, and records; and establishment of emergency operating capabilities.

Carter Administration Eisenhower Administration

External links

Continuity-of-operations plans are widely used in the computer security field to provide for occasions where one's critical computer site becomes unavailable due to natural disaster or other calamity. For example, most large banks contract with companies that operate so-called hot sites featuring computer rooms so processing of critical data (e.g. banking transactions) can continue in spite of the primary site's unavailability.